These are the top stories in Faulkner County for 2013.
No. 1: Mayflower oil spill
The sight of drenched, fowl and dark pools were abundant in March when the Pegasus Pipeline in Mayflower busted, sending hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil onto the land and streets of nearby neighborhoods.
March 29 served as a day worth remembering for Mayflower residents as well as all Arkansans. ExxonMobil, the operator of the pipeline, said there were “a few thousand barrels” in the area, but they staged a response for more than 10,000 barrels “to be conservative.”
Federal, state and local representatives along with about 100 ExxonMobil employees responded within 30 minutes of the spill. The spill affected houses on Starlite Road and Shade Tree Lane in Mayflower.
At just two days after the oil spill, 22 homes had been affected while 504,000 gallons of oil and water had been recovered with 33 storage tanks and 15 vacuum trucks. The Environmental Protection Agency classified it as a “major” spill.
A few key contributors to cleaning up the spill include Faulkner County Judge Allen Dodson and Mayflower Mayor Randy Holland. These two received the 2013 Jack Evans Regional Leadership Award from Metroplan for their efforts and for helping prevent the oil spill from reaching Lake Conway.
No. 2: Central Landing development
The Conway Development Corporation announced an enormous project on Oct. 10 that would bring retail, dining, lodging, offices, residential space and corporate entities to the former a form irport site at Cantrell Field. The site is 151 acres and the project is expected to begin in the fall of 2017.
The space will include 760,000 square feet of retail space and 200,000 square feet of office space. The land was purchased for $6.1 million with $305,000 in earnest money to be paid at different phases in the closing process.
Jim Wilson & Associates, LLC partnered with the Conway Development Corporation and estimates $16.1 million in gross retail sales that would generate nearly $300,000 in city sales tax during the first two months of business.
No. 3: Law enforcement deaths
Conway police say officer William McGary was directing traffic on Jan. 31, when a vehicle allegedly operated by Barry Strickland, of Conway, struck him. McGary was taken to the hospital and put in intensive care before he died Feb. 1.
Since, Strickland has been charged with first-degree battery and driving while intoxicated for the incident. Toxicology reports revealed in court have shown Strickland had no non-prescribed drugs in his system at the time of the accident.
On April 8, Faulkner County Sheriff Andy Shock confirmed the death of Faulkner County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Hans Fifer. Fifer died after performing in SWAT team tryouts in North Little Rock.
Shock said after completing a course that included running, jumping and shooting, Fifer complained of chest pains. Initial reports indicated that he died due to heart implications.
No. 4: Big changes in football
Before 2013, Hendrix College had not had a football team since 1960. The team began practice for the first time in 53 years on Aug. 15 with 56 players on the team, 46 of them being true freshmen.
The team played a 10-game schedule in the Southern Athletic Association in NCAA Division III. The team finished sixth out of seven teams in the conference with a 3-7 overall record and a 1-5 conference record.
Head coach Buck Buchanan helped seven of his players make the all-conference teams and seven players make the all-sportsmanship teams.
At the drop of a hat, the University of Central Arkansas lost its head football coach of 14 years to Stephen F. Austin University. Less than a week later, UCA Athletic Director Brad Teague announced Steve Campbell as the Bears’ new head coach Dec. 20.
The press conference was packed with alumni, assistant coaches and media as Campbell addressed how he was going to help the team. Campbell has won three national championships. He won one as a player for Troy State, coached for one at Delta State and another at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College where he was 88-22 in his 10 years as coach.
Campbell has never had a losing season as a player or a coach. He has coached six players that went on to play in the NFL and said all six have college degrees. Campbell said he is excited to coach at UCA and live in Conway.
No. 5: Guns in school debates
The school shooting in Newtown, Conn. in December 2012 caused Conway school systems to consider a change in policy, possibly allowing guns to be carried by educators. These thoughts were especially prominent among higher education institutions with Act 226 in place.
The act allows colleges to choose to arm specific faculty members, but also allows those universities to opt out if they choose. The University of Central Arkansas was among the first four-year institutions in the state to opt out. The University of Arkansas, Arkansas State University and Southern Arkansas University followed in suit.
Recent school shootings also prompted Faulkner County Sheriff Andy Shock to propose extensive training to county schools to allow an avenue for administrators to carry weapons on campus.
According to Shock, the training would be the same 110-hour regiment that reserve deputies are required to complete. Along with Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland, Shock presented his plan to school boards at Mt. Vernon-Enola and Mayflower.
Recently, 20th Judicial District Prosecuting Attorney Cody Hiland said his office wouldn’t prosecute people for going out in public wearing a gun. Republican Denny Altes of Fort Smith introduced legislation in April to make “technical corrections” to Arkansas statutes regarding carrying a weapon.
A “constitutional carry walk” was supposed to take place Dec. 21 in Conway, but was postponed due to rain. The walk was going to take place from Colton’s Steakhouse on Oak Street, down Oak Street and back for lunch. The organizers said anyone could participate, but no rifles or shotguns were allowed and participants were to not unholster their weapon.
No 6: Conway Christmas Tree
It’s hard to miss the 54-foot Christmas tree in Rogers Plaza when one enters Conway. The finishing touches were put on the tree on Nov. 23. Despite some lighting issues, the tree has more than 19,000 lights to accompany its gigantic structure.
The tree cost about $130,000 and was approved by the Conway City Council. The money used to purchase the tree came from advertising and promotion tax money raised through a two-percent prepared food tax.
The maker of the tree, Get Lit, LLC, said the tree might be the largest artificial tree in the Midwest. Conway Mayor Tab Townsell said the tree would hopefully attract shoppers to downtown and to Conway in general.
In its first year on display, the tree has garnered much attention, along with a slew of criticism, from county residents.
No. 7: HP jobs leave, some return
Hewlett-Packard announced on July 8 that it would be eliminating about 500 call center positions at its Conway location. The move was phased out over a period of four to six months with employees receiving two months of severance pay.
At the time of the job elimination, about 1,400 workers were employed at the Conway location with more than 1,000 employees being at technical and call center positions.
The move came as a surprise to most. Mayor Tab Townsell said he was not expecting it and Congressman Tim Griffin said the news was “heartbreaking” and that he would work with the workers that were impacted.
On Dec. 18, Gov. Mike Beebe announced that the Conway location is undergoing a restructuring and 200 jobs are being added to the center.
No. 8: H. Allen Smith pleads guilty
Republican H. Allen Smith, in an attempt to harm Republican Andy Shock’s campaign for Sheriff, plead guilty in April to creating a fake birth certificate saying Shock had an illegitimate child. Smith was sentenced to one month in prison; 12 months supervised release and 100 hours community service Aug. 16.
After the sentencing, Smith admitted he was wrong and said he got caught up in the campaign and that it was a stupid and hurtful thing to do. He admitted to driving to Texas to mail the false documents to Republican voters in Faulkner County.
Shock said he was disappointed, but respected the court’s decision. He also said Smith’s actions in the 2012 sheriff campaign was “the lowest and dirtiest political tactic in the history of Faulkner County.”
No. 9: Rapert at front of abortion legislation
Sen. Jason Rapert’s, R-Conway, “heartbeat” was one of two pieces of abortion legislation to make its way through the Arkansas Legislature in 2013.
Rapert’s bill, now Act 301, would prohibit most abortions after 12 weeks if a heartbeat were detected. Exemptions of the bill, now Act 301, include rape, incest and the life of the mother. Before it was revised, the original bill, aimed to prohibit abortions as early as six weeks after gestation.
Various pro-choice groups and the American Civil Liberties Union were among the bill’s staunch opposers.
In May, U.S. District Judge Susan Webber ruled the act would not be implemented while it was challenged in court.
Rep. Andy Mayberry, R-Hensley, headed legislation, now Act 171, that prohibits abortions after 20 weeks based on the assertion that the fetus can feel pain.
No. 10: Scroggin leaves office, Dodson appointed
After being re-elected to the county judge position in January, Gov. Mike Beebe appointed Preston Scroggin as the director of the Arkansas Livestock and Poultry Commission. Scroggin said he loved his old position bu,t couldn’t turn this opportunity down.
The self-proclaimed fifth-generation farmer said he was blown away, but was honored to be offered the position. The position became available due to the death of the previous director, Steve Bryles, in December.
On Jan. 31, County Attorney Allen Dodson was appointed to county judge with a 12-1 vote from the Quorum Court. Dodson will not be allowed to run for re-election when the term expires in 2014.